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Treaty Day: a part of all our history

It’s Treaty Day in Nova Scotia, a day marking the Peace and Friendship treaties signed in the 1700’s between the Mi’kmaq people and the occupying British crown.

Treaty Day
Mi’kmaq Youth in the Treaty Day parade, 2012. (Photo: novascotia.ca)

Treaty Day parades and celebrations are led by the Mi’kmaq community, but it’s important for non-Natives in this province to mark the occasion as well.  Continue reading Treaty Day: a part of all our history

Fighting racism –> supporting our students

There’s a rally in Halifax this Tuesday in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Missouri, and all black youth.

If you’re a teacher, I’d like to encourage you to attend.  Continue reading Fighting racism –> supporting our students

Why we shouldn’t avoid the word “white”

Many years ago, many people had no qualms about calling themselves “white.”

historicalprotest whites have rights

An unfortunate example of apostrophe misuse as well as racism.
An unfortunate example of apostrophe misuse as well as racism.
1924 "Racial Integrity Act"  of Virginia, which reads in part: "For the purpose of this act, the term "white person" shall apply only to the person who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian; but persons who have one-sixteenth or less of the blood of the American Indian and have no other non-Caucasic blood shall be deemed to be white persons."
1924 “Racial Integrity Act” of Virginia, which reads in part: “For the purpose of this act, the term “white person” shall apply only to the person who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian; but persons who have one-sixteenth or less of the blood of the American Indian and have no other non-Caucasic blood shall be deemed to be white persons.”

Today, more people seem to be squeamish about it. Students in class have occasionally asked me if we can use another word in place of “white” to describe people – “technically we’re pinkish”, one once said. In casual conversation people sometimes take pains to avoid the word, substituting terms like “Caucasian” or “of European descent.” Continue reading Why we shouldn’t avoid the word “white”

Education debates are political, not just pedagogical

Back to basicsMy local paper recently published a series of articles lamenting Nova Scotian P-12 students’ performance on standardized math and literacy tests. At issue, reported author Frances Willick, is the use of modern teaching techniques such as “whole-language” learning for teaching reading and “discovery-based” learning for teaching math.

Willick’s sources, such as Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) education professor Jamie Metsala, say these modern methods have failed kids. Teachers should focus more on traditional techniques like phonics for teaching reading, and repetitive drills for teaching basic math.

All of us should welcome robust public debates on pedagogical techniques, and most of us in the education world do. After all, we want to do the best job we can at educating our kids.

Unfortunately, “crisis” articles like these are not very helpful. First, they sensationalize what is actually happening in our classrooms; and second, they ignore the political context of what is happening in our education system.

Continue reading Education debates are political, not just pedagogical

Don’t narrow our curriculum

Also published at Behind the numbers,  rabble.ca and the Chronicle-Herald.

What is our public education system for? To judge by much of the talk coming from politicians and business leaders, education is purely a matter of preparing students to be workers in a vaguely defined “new economy.”

Educational authorities need to be cautious about narrowing the curriculum and excluding what are perceived as non-job-related subjects such as art, music and social studies.
Educational authorities need to be cautious about narrowing the curriculum and excluding what are perceived as non-job-related subjects such as art, music and social studies.

Certainly, students need to be able to survive economically in the world. But public education is about much more than narrow job-skills training: it’s about teaching our kids how to create and sustain a healthy, engaged society.

This isn’t always reflected in the way we prioritize certain subjects in school.  Continue reading Don’t narrow our curriculum

Forget test scores: fight poverty and keep education public

Two opinion pieces in a recent issue of the Chronicle-Herald, one an editorial and the other by Paul Bennett, spoke of the difficult learning conditions in some of Nova Scotia’s most impoverished neighbourhoods. Both are to be commended for highlighting the clear connections between poverty and school success (Be bold first in education, Radical intervention for faltering schools; both April 19).

But in the Ivany-report-inspired rush to “be bold,” we should be cautious about some of the solutions proposed.  Continue reading Forget test scores: fight poverty and keep education public

Union concerns are community concerns

Led by the Portland Student Union, about 400 people rallied at a Portland Public School Board meeting in support of their teachers in January. (photo: oregonlive.com - http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/01/portland_students_and_teachers.html)
Led by the Portland Student Union, about 400 people rallied at a Portland Public School Board meeting in support of their teachers in January. (photo: oregonlive.com – http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/01/portland_students_and_teachers.html)

The provincial budget was tabled in Nova Scotia earlier this month, with education funding being increased by $18.6 million.

I don’t have time to crunch the numbers here to analyze what they really mean. (e.g. to what extent do they compensate for cuts to the P-12 education budget in recent years? And what year would we use as a benchmark, anyway? 2010? 2001?)

For the moment, teachers seem pleased by the budget announcement (despite the fact that Liberal government had promised $65 million in additional funding for education in the first year of its mandate, not over four years as the budget announcement now says).

In any case, though, it’s hard to be too happy about education funding right now: the day before the budget was announced, the government rammed through Bill 37, the law which effectively removed the right to strike from nearly 40,000 public-sector workers in Nova Scotia.  Continue reading Union concerns are community concerns

On teaching Aboriginal history to non-Aboriginal students

Last week I gave a webinar presentation called “Aboriginal history is everyone’s history” for Canada’s History, a society that promotes Canadian history education. The goal of the webinar was to highlight the idea that all Canadians, not just Aboriginal people, have the responsibility of teaching and learning about the history of Aboriginal people in Canada.

Here in Nova Scotia, many non-Native students choose to take Mi’kmaq Studies 10 to get their high school Canadian Studies credit. How can non-Indigenous teachers teach this course to these students in a way that is respectful and culturally appropriate?

You can see a recording of the webinar here. Below is a transcript of the presentation, edited for easy reading.

Continue reading On teaching Aboriginal history to non-Aboriginal students

What Educators Really Need

Saulnier
Christine Saulnier, director of the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives – Nova Scotia, and economist Michael Bradfield unveiled the Nova Scotia Alternative Provincial Budget last Wednesday in Halifax (photo courtesy of Robert Devet, Halifax Media Co-op)

The authors of a couple of reports by right-wing think-tanks have been doing their best to discredit teachers in Nova Scotia this past month.

I’d rather not mention the names of the think-tanks or their authors, so they don’t get any more attention than they already have. If you’re familiar with the political landscape in this province though, you probably know who they are.  (If not, one of them is the first hit when you Google “Nova Scotia think tank.”)

Continue reading What Educators Really Need

Talking education with Rick Howe

Rick Howe invited me on his show on News 95.7 in Halifax today to discuss the education review panel that was recently announced for Nova Scotia.

girl-drawing-back-to-school-1239803-mWe talked about the broader context in which the review is taking place – the “education reform”/privatization movement – and how we need to be wary of simplistic ways of thinking about education. Lots of ink has been spilled about the so-called math wars, some going so far as to talk about a “math crisis” in Canada. The government has talked about aligning the curriculum with the “needs of the economy,” and business and finance are well represented on the panel itself.

But math scores on standardized tests are not the most important thing in our schools. A narrow focus on basic math and literacy skills means our kids miss out on learning about empathy, political engagement and the arts, among other things.

Educational “success” for all depends on us addressing overarching issues like poverty and inequality.

You can hear the entire interview here.